Safe and decent homes

A third of private rented homes are classified by the government as non-decent; far higher than all other tenures. Shockingly, 6 in 10 renters told us that they had experienced a problem with damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations and gas leaks in the last year alone.

Today we are publishing our report on what needs to be done to improve conditions and deliver safe and decent homes to England’s 9 million renters including the growing numbers of families that find themselves living in the sector.

In addition to the huge amount of evidence that our services staff have on problems with privately rented homes, we’ve undertaken an extensive programme of research with landlords, local authorities and renters to find out what the key barriers to improving poor conditions are in order to develop a set of strong policy recommendations to improve the sector.

I have been fortunate enough to work closely with frontline housing staff, including Shelter advisors and environmental health teams. I’ve been into people’s homes and seen first-hand the chilling effects of poor conditions on renters’ lives. Too often renters are too scared to complain or frustrated by a landlord who refuses to improve conditions. What is more, for all the homes that environmental health teams visit, we know that there are many more people suffering in silence. This is largely because local authorities lack resources and basic information on their local private rented sector to take proactive enforcement action and renters are too scared to complain.

You could argue that this represents the situation at the very worst end of the market. But unfortunately we know that this experience is mirrored, albeit to a varying extent, throughout the entire sector.

In an overheated market, renters lack consumer bargaining power to negotiate for better conditions. We found that across the country over 200,000 renters faced revenge evictions after complaining about poor conditions in the last year alone. A much higher number (1 in 8) didn’t complain about poor conditions or challenge a rent increase because they feared eviction.

While there are rogue landlords who deliberately exploit renters, there are far more amateur and accidental landlords, whose actions, while less malicious, are equally dangerous.  Our YouGov survey of over 1000 landlords found that almost a third (27%) could be described as accidental landlords, who have either inherited or couldn’t sell a property, and end up letting it out. On top of that, more than three-quarters (77%) have never been a member of any trade body or held any licence or accreditation. Given that the vast majority of landlords only own one or two homes, and there is a severe lack of centralised data on landlords and stock they own, the market is not only un-professionalised but also extremely fragmented. This poses a real challenge to improving conditions, particularly given the lack of financial incentives for landlords operating in such an overcrowded market.

Taking all these factors into account, the Safe and Decent Homes report proposes bold, practical solutions to drive up standards and ensures that everyone can access a decent, affordable, secure private rented home. With demand high and rising, and the imbalance between landlords’ and renters’ market power entrenched, the case for regulatory intervention has become urgent.

In order to effectively tackle poor conditions, we must employ a three-pronged approach

The consumer bargaining power of renters must be strengthened to enable renters to ask their landlord for better conditions without fear that they will lose their homes.

  • Government must intervene to ensure landlords meet their basic legal requirements and are adequately trained in their responsibilities. This would principally be achieved through the introduction of a national register of landlords.
  • Thirdly, the role of local authorities must be strengthened to better allow them to exercise their existing powers to improve the conditions where the market fails. They must be better resourced and provided, through a national register of landlords, with the data on their local private rented sector.

Greater consumer power, more professional landlords, better informed and better resourced local authorities would all help the market to function more effectively.

You can read our full set of policy recommendations here.  

  1. ‘Improved renter’s consumer bargaining power’ (Revenge eviction legislation)’
    -This would be abused by rogue tenants and ignored by rogue landlords.

    ‘Improve skills and knowledge in the sector (The introduction of a national register of landlords)’
    -There is a register in Scotland, the rogue landlords simply don’t bother registering.
    It hasn’t worked.

    ‘Improve the ability of local authorities to enforce the powers they have (Council landlord licensing)’
    -Newham have licenced 32,000 good landlords. That leaves 10,000+ rogue landlords unlicensed. Only fifteen landlords out of 10,000+ rogues have been banned.
    It hasn’t worked.

    Shelter should get back to its roots, stop campaigning against good landlords and start campaigning against the rogues.

    1. The London Borough of Newham proves that Landlords generally comply with the rules and regulations. The Council has licensed 32,000 landlord’s properties. I don’t believe there are as many 10,000 unlicensed, as Newham simply did not know how many are rental properties they had in the first instance. They were just guessing. The council are looking through bins, looking for letters as evidence the properties are unlicensed (whether they are bad properties or not, it not their concern).

      Some of those rental properties may be in the excluded groups such as those leased to local authorities or housing associations, which do not require a license.

      Landlords are n’t entirely clear how handing over £500 to the local council has improved their rentals. It has left less money for Landlords for repairs and improvements.

      Newham has used the money to wage an ideological war against private landlords.

      Newham houses some of the poorest people, and in particular a neglected groups are hard-working young low-waged workers. They are not entitled to social housing or benefits. Only landlords are there to provide housing, if Newham target landlords, where are these people supposed to live?

      A number of tenants where made homeless as a direct result of Newham decision to License all rental properties. These are not the sort of tenants who jump on Twitter to protest to Newham Council. Shelter have blood on their hands for supporting Licensing. They did not understand the implications of Licensing (and I still don’t think they do).

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